Jennifer discovered from her husband Tom's emails that he was meeting Brad for sex. She came to see me, heartbroken, sure that her marriage to her "gay" husband was doomed. But when I examined Tom, I discovered he wasn't gay. He had been sexually abused by his coach when he was a boy, and his compulsion to have sex with men was a "trauma reenactment," which could be eliminated through therapy. Of course, Tom and Jennifer still had to work through the betrayal of his sexual acting out, but his issues did not present a fundamental impediment to the marriage. Had he been gay, then Tom and Jennifer's challenges would have been much greater.
Seeking sex with men does not make a man gay. Sexual orientation is a complex state of being. You aren't gay because you "act gay." You're gay because you are gay. When I examine a man who's questioning his sexual orientation, I ask him about childhood abuse and other traumas that can lead straight men to seek sex with men. I've also developed a checklist of characteristics of gay men to help me with diagnosis. These characteristics go beyond mere sexual acts. Here is a simplified list:
- The beach test: Gay men see the men on a beach, not the women.
- Youthful noticing: Before puberty, gay boys notice other boys with a kind of giggling delight, just as straight boys do girls.
- Waking up: Straight guys, even those who have sex with men, don't want to wake up next to one.
- Falling in love: A gay man can fall in romantic love with a man; straight men don't.
- Romantic hopes and dreams with a male partner: After a period of promiscuous "gay adolescence," a gay man will yearn to "settle down."
- Gay sex not degrading: Straight men sometimes interpret gay sex as humiliating. Gay men find it fundamentally joyful.
- Homophobia: If a gay man is repressing his gay identity, he is often negative about gay people and the "gay lifestyle."
Of course, sometimes a questioning man comes to me and it turns out he is gay or bi. In this case, marriage between the man and a woman is fundamentally complicated and often (but not always) leads to divorce. I've developed a set of guidelines for these couples. (See my website, JoeKort.com, or Chapter 13 of my recent book, Is My Husband Gay, Straight, or Bi?: A Guide for Women Concerned About Their Men.)
Many couples come to see me because the husband's unconventional sexual interests are interpreted as "gay." I'm amazed that people continue to believe that an interest in anal sex makes a man gay. Sometimes "kinks" are acted out as compulsions and need to be addressed by therapy to give the man more control over his impulses, but they usually are not "proof" that the man is gay.
Joel came to see me, afraid his wife might discover his secret. He was meeting couples to engage in very specific sex "scenes." He wanted to be "forced" by a woman to watch her make love to her husband -- even to help her make love to her husband -- but if the woman wasn't there, he wasn't interested. His compulsion for this kink (commonly called "cuckolding") might seem gay (because of the man in the room), but in fact I've never heard of a gay man with this interest.
I did help Joel become less compulsive. In his therapy we uncovered a complex situation in his childhood in which his mother doted on him when his father was absent on business trips but ignored him completely when his father was home. His longing to be included as a child had been sexualized in his psyche as a cuckolding kink. I could not "cure" him of his fantasy; he'll always be aroused by some version of it. What we achieved in therapy was freeing him from the compulsion to act on it. As a result, he didn't need to continue to meet with couples for sex.
When a married man and woman come to me for clarity, they end up in one of three situations:
- The man is acting out a homosexual behavioral imprinting from childhood, which often fades with therapy.
- The man is gay or bi, and the couple must decide how to stay together or part because of it.
- The man has a kink whose compulsivity may be controlling and ruining his life (and the marriage), but through therapy he can learn to manage and moderate it, even though it will never go away entirely.
But wait! You want to know if your husband is gay. Without the terror of homophobia clouding our vision with horrendous legal and social consequences, it is relatively easy to determine if a man is gay. He can determine it himself, using the simple tools I noted above: beach test, youthful noticing, and so on. Bisexuality is subtler. The best way to tell if a man is bisexual is to sit down with him and talk about it.
One final thought: No one -- not even an "expert" -- has the right to tell you to panic and divorce. You most likely understand what you're dealing with better than anybody. You can choose for yourself. It's your future. You have options.